Hope Versus Fear

What does your ideal future look like?

This blog was started to give perspective to the usual warnings we hear about global warming, and to point out that things like sea level rise and worse storms – those are downright optimistic compared to the real worst-case scenarios. For this post, I’m going to take a break from the doomsaying to talk about constructive activity – something I hope to do more often over the course of this year.

Last February, I wrote a piece about how we need to accept the reality of the present situation, and take action. The lone comment on that piece was a simple question: “So, where do we start?”

This is the beginning of my answer to that question.

It’s not an easy question to answer. Another part of the premise of this blog is that we are facing a global change unlike anything our species has ever encountered, let alone our civilization.

How do we begin to address that? Where on earth do we start if we want to stop, or even consciously adapt to, something like that?

It’s very easy, in the face of something scary, to confuse a reaction from fear with a reaction from hope. If we’re being chased by a lion, we fear death, and we hope to live, and both of those motivators encourage us to get away from the lion. If we react purely from fear, then we’re guided by panic – that can work for us sometimes, but there’s always a chance that it will guide us to run past a tree we could have climbed, had we been looking, out of hope, for the opportunity.

In acting on climate change, we must begin to act out of hope. So far, we’ve been acting mostly out of fear. We’ve been trying to stop what’s coming, we’ve been protesting, and trying to legislate around it. All of that is good, but it’s clearly not been enough.

It’s time to stop working away from the future we fear, and work toward the future we want. 

Over the past decade, I’ve heard a number of people say “It’s the 21st century, where’s my flying car?” It’s a useful question, once you dig past the joke. The answer is that the flying car is still in the future. We need to make it.

How many of us have heard climate deniers arguing against the straw-man assumption that all “climate hawks” want us to go back to the stone age? The reason that has been such a tenacious argument is that most of what we do is talk about what’s wrong with everything we have now. Small wonder that people who already dislike us and what we stand for will look at that, and see us as luddites!

But, of course, that’s not what we want. Not me, anyway.

I see a future in which towering cities shine across the night landscape like beacons standing out of a sea of forest. I see skyscrapers with hundreds of acres of floorspace used not for offices, but for growing all the food the city needs, and enough for biofuel too, without concern for season or weather. I see near-silent trains gliding at hundreds of miles per hour under, over, or through the countryside between cities – a glistening silver network connecting our society like neurons. I see towers full of windows, and every window converts light into electricity, and every tower has solar panels and wind turbines on top.

I see windmills generating direct mechanical energy to move water and air.

I see a really awesome future, and I see the roots of it in the technology we have developed over the last century.

But we’re not there yet – we’ve still got work to do.

So, where do we start? We start by painting that picture of our impossible future, and then we break it down into smaller pieces that are achievable. We find ways to connect with the people who can turn our windows into power generators.  We start to think of water tanks as power storage, put them on the top floor, and install micro turbines in every pipe because the water’s going to flow through it anyway. We take our sewage tanks and fields and replace them with methane digesters for cooking gas or power generation. We get an LED grow light and start growing our own food.

Maybe we just buy one cheap toy solar panel, rig it to feed back into the grid, and set aside every penny it saves us to pay for the next cheap toy solar panel.

We start by making a plan, as individuals, as families, as friends, as communities – we make a plan and take the first steps toward the future we want, and then, after we’ve gone a couple steps down that road, we’ll see that we’re just a bit farther away from the future we fear.

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